Category Archives: Music — 1960s

Unboxing Revolver

“One thing I am always proud of is how The Beatles’ songs were so different from each other. Some other artists found a formula and repeated it. When asked what our formula was, John and I said that if we ever found one we would get rid of it immediately.”

— Paul McCartney, 2022

A quickie this month. I simply haven’t had time to put together another multi-part epic. But one is in the works, I promise. A two-parter, maybe three. Probably in early 2023.

Yes, my day job has kept me very busy this autumn, but I have to face the fact that my off-hours have not exactly been dedicated to intellectual pursuits, such as researching and writing for this boondoggle of a website. (I have retired the term “blog” for myself because it smacks so much of a bygone early-2000s era, when a more innocent nation collectively fell in love with LiveJournal, Wonkette, and Juno.) When I get home from work and drop my bulk into my cat-scratched recliner, I am usually so mentally (and at my age, physically) wiped from the day’s work that I just want to stare blearily at something low-stakes until it’s time for roughly twenty minutes of Jeopardy! (skipping the commercials and the contestants’ awkward personal anecdotes). My wife and I compete over Jeopardy! in the most lax, informal manner possible. No one keeps track of points, and if our mouths are full of dinner when a response is required, we use the honor system. “I knew that. You know I knew that, right?”

And there is nothing that represents low-stakes viewing more than YouTube. There is a wide array of YouTube rabbit holes to trip up the shiftless and lazy. My twin go-tos lately have been: 1) Reaction videos. It’s peculiarly satisfying watching some innocent Gen Z’er come unhinged seeing The Exorcist for the first time, or a couple of fellow nerds nerding out (and even getting teary-eyed) over a Star Wars TV show trailer. 2) Relaxing footage of hobbyists painting miniature figurines for tabletop gaming. Mostly Warhammer 40K. The actual playing of Warhammer looks an order of magnitude less fun than painting the figures. (It seems you’re supposed to push them around on a placemat-sized cardboard grid.) If the painter/narrator has a soothing British accent, so much the better.

Which brings me to the most low-stakes YouTube genre of all, if such a thing is possible.

Unboxing videos.

People taking newly-purchased things out of their packaging, and describing the process. That’s it, and that’s all.

I’ve watched dozens.

Opening something new — especially something you’ve been anticipating getting for a long time — is an experience that can only happen once. Lots of folks out there share my opinion that half the fun is the aesthetically-pleasing packaging your new treasure arrives in. It was with great dismay that I finally forced myself to toss nine years’ worth of perfect little Pixel phone boxes. I ordered a cheap, off-brand external BluRay drive for my laptop the other day that came packaged like a tiara from Tiffany’s. (The BluRay drive itself turned out to be a piece of shit, but I wanted to put the box on my shelf.)

Don’t get me started on the sleek, gorgeous, modern-art masterpiece version of a covenant ark that a new laptop arrives in.

Despite my enthusiasm for splitting that shrink wrap and delving into the goods, I don’t think I’d ever bother to do an unboxing video myself, mostly because even that minimal effort seems like a waste of energy, and I doubt I’d come off well on video. My spindly paws are far from manicure-fresh, and like anyone with a soul, I cringe at the sound of my own recorded voice.

So I thought I’d do the next best thing and fill this space with some “unboxing” in pictures and text.


The August 1966 album that was the Beatles’ true masterpiece. For a long time, the following year’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was hailed the pinnacle of the Beatles’ output (and as such, pretty much the pinnacle of popular music), but its baroque psychedelic fripperies have become a tad dated and indelibly associated with a specific, love bead-centric era. (Don’t get me wrong, it’s still the Beatles, and therefore essential, but you can almost smell the patchouli seeping out of it.) The more straightforward Revolver, on the other hand, is timeless, and a younger generation of Beatles fans have leap-frogged it ahead of Pepper, judging its merits more objectively without having been around for Pepper’s impact as a cultural phenomenon.

Here’s what I wrote about Revolver in the Idle Time collective’s 2009 book Decades: A Tribute to Our Top 400 Albums of All Time (where it easily sailed, by near unanimous acclamation, to the #1 spot).

Assured and almost aggressively self-confident, the Beatles took their undisputed mastery of pure songcraft (melody, rhythm, lyricism, etc.) into the studio during their first long break from touring, and delved into a bag of production tricks and techniques that are still being emulated to this day. Varispeed, tape loops, flanging, phasing — all of which can be done in the modern era with the click of a mouse, but in 1966 required a pioneering spirit and a willingness to push the limits of recording at all times. It required thinking way, way outside the box, and altering (sometimes even damaging) microphones, instruments, amps, and four-track tape machines. (Yes, it was all done on four-track!)

Revolver is like a prism — a seamless crystalline whole, but depending on which angle you approach it from, will provide a brilliant, colorful flash of each band member’s personality. John Lennon’s lazy, swirling material (“I’m Only Sleeping,” “She Said, She Said”) reflects his own feelings of being adrift and confused early in the post-Beatlemania phase of his life, and his dabbling with the still-legal hallucinogen LSD. The album’s cacaphonous closer “Tomorrow Never Knows” is an attempt to convey the sensation of of an acid trip through pure sound…when he wasn’t tuning in and turning on, Lennon amused himself with satirical character sketches (“Doctor Robert”) that foreshadowed later figures like Mr. Kite and Polythene Pam. Paul McCartney’s songs showcase the skills of a master pop craftsman. “Here, There, and Everywhere” and “For No One” relate the beginning and end of a love affair in heartbreaking detail. The bouncy rhythms and positive vibes of “Good Day Sunshine” and “Got To Get You Into My Life” are the blueprints for Wings and the best of McCartney’s solo career. (Macca Bonus: His fluid, melodic bass-playing anchors the whole album perfectly.) George Harrison’s wry cynicism is our first taste of Revolver, as his stinging “Taxman” kicks off side one with its overdriven guitars and bitter lyrics telling the true-life, nouveau riche tale of losing 90% of your income to Britain’s harsh tax laws. No one wants to hold anyone’s hand here. His “Love You To” kicks off the ‘60s obsession with all things Eastern. The rest of the band sits this one out in favor of an all-Indian instrumental backing, with George singing earnestly of Hindu enlightenment in a thick Liverpudlian accent. And Ringo drums his heart out and sings “Yellow Submarine.” What more could you ask?

What the Beatles finally emerged from the studio with in the summer of ‘66 was the platonic ideal of a Great Album — sublimely-crafted songs that incorporated envelope-pushing experimentalism and stylistic shifts from track to track, and leaving the listener feeling like they’ve had an experience.

Yes, the prism simile needs work, the band was more active on “Love You To” than I had assumed, and I somehow failed to mention “Eleanor Rigby,” but I still think that’s a pretty decent chunk of musicological expounding by a younger version of the Holy Bee. (Sorry, folks, but the book’s first and only limited print run sold out years ago. It was self-financed by our music collective, and it’s a good thing we didn’t have to pay by the adjective.)

A big trend in classic rock re-issues in the last few years has been “Super Deluxe Editions” — lavish box sets with several CDs and/or vinyl LPs crammed with fully re-mastered mixes, demos, and outtakes, usually accompanied by other collectible material. Late-period Beatles releases (1967’s Pepper through 1970’s Let It Be) have all received the Super Deluxe treatment under the supervision of Giles Martin (son of original Beatles producer George Martin), but no one was sure if such extensive re-mastering would work for the pre-Pepper stuff due to more primitive recording techniques prior to 1967. Luckily, recent technological breakthoughs have allowed Martin to apply his sonic magic to Revolver. (Click here for the audio-geek details.) It remains to be seen if earlier Beatles albums are suitable for Super Deluxe consideration, but I hope at least Rubber Soul gets the works.

Naturally, I clicked the button for the Super Deluxe Revolver as soon as it became available for pre-order. Here’s what arrived the other day:

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Apple Scraps: The Odds & Ends of “Get Back”

Will I ever write a one-part Holy Bee entry again? This one was intended to be a one-shot. A throwaway, even. Just some random observations and lots of images. But my usual over-writing and lack of editing discipline caused it to bloat up, as if it had eaten fistfuls of instant mashed potato flakes right out of the box (don’t do that). To quote Abraham Lincoln, “As the preacher said, ‘I could write shorter sermons, but once I get started I get too lazy to stop.’”

I toyed with idea of dividing it into two entries.

But no! It’s staying a one-parter because it’s a stupidly indulgent entry, and just not worth spreading over two monthly installments. Word count-wise, I managed to keep it on par with a typical entry here, but all these pictures…your scrolling wheel may wear out before you get to the end. Read with caution.

Anyway, on with it…

Get Back, Peter Jackson’s landmark three-part series on the filming & recording sessions that ultimately produced the Beatles’ Let It Be album and documentary, has been out for almost a year now. It has inspired websites and podcasts to do recaps, reviews, and “deep dive” analyses of the development of the songs, and especially the interpersonal relationships and late-period band dynamics that give this project such dramatic heft. And everything from George Harrison’s color-coordinated outfits to the copious amounts of toast the band consumed (the toast rack seemed to be an essential piece of studio equipment) has been remarked upon many times.

I will try to avoid the most talked-about and analyzed stuff because I’m almost a year too late to that party. Mostly, I want to look at the little things that I noticed, or wondered about. 

I mean, really inconsequential things. This is going to get ridiculous.

It’s all about clutter in the background or quick cutaways, and little bits of dialogue that didn’t get heavily mentioned, or mentioned at all, in the hundreds of other reviews and recaps. My observations are really lopsided towards Part 1, just because there was so much being introduced. Part 3 is almost non-existent here because there wasn’t much new to notice, a big part of it was taken up with the rooftop concert to which I have little to add, and frankly, I was getting a bit burned out by my “micro-watching” of this whole thing.

I will assume the reader is familiar with the overall story of the “Get Back” sessions, or has watched the documentary already, so let’s jump right in.

Part 1 – 12:42 — Does the Hare Krishna (identified as Shyamasunder Das) randomly hanging out on the Twickenham set really keep his few worldly possessions in a tartan handbag from Freddy, a high-end Paris gift shop?

Also, why exactly is he there? Clearly it’s at George’s invitation. After an initial meeting the previous month, George, whose interest in Eastern religion and philosophy was passionate, agreed to help the small religious group set up a London temple. Upon Paul’s arrival for the session, he and John dismissively refer to Shyamasunder with a few lines of dialogue from A Hard Day’s Night (“Who’s that little old man?”). Although a tacit supporter of the Krishnas (he let several stay on his property later that year), John finally makes the offhand remark, “It’s a bit daft him being up there, isn’t it?” Daft or not, a couple of Hare Krishnas come and go through the first few days of the Twickenham sessions.

1 – 13:12 — Sticker Time! (1): The Bassman sticker makes its first appearance. The sticker was originally included with the Fender Bassman amplifier that was part of a sweet deal made with Fender the previous summer. The company would send along instruments and amps they thought the Beatles would like, and also fulfill their requests — all for free, in the hopes of getting some promotion or endorsements, or even just having the Beatles be seen using the equipment. At some point Paul peeled off the sticker and applied it to his Hofner “violin” bass, where it stayed through the rooftop concert.

1 – 14:15 — Sticker Time! (2): Both Ringo’s rack tom-tom and his floor tom-tom sport a “Drum City” sticker. Drum City was located at 114 Shaftesbury Avenue in London, and naturally enough, it’s where Ringo got all of his drums starting in 1963. At that time, he acquired his signature Ludwig set with the black oyster pearl finish. Drum City owner Ivor Arbiter designed the world-famous “Beatles” logo to go on the bass drum head for an additional £5 “artwork fee.” Ringo’s most recent Ludwig kit from Drum City was acquired in September of 1968, and for the first time broke away from the black oyster pearl, going with a natural maple finish. 

1 – 15:28 — John’s propensity for wordplay twists the title of his section of “I’ve Got A Feeling” from “Everybody Had A Hard Year” to “Everybody Had A Hard-On.” Paul adds to it “…except me and my monkey,” referring to the White Album song. John’s delighted smile when Paul nails the punchline is one of my favorite moments. (And the Beatles were nothing if not self-referential. They knew their own history very well and were fond of reminiscing, at least at that point.)

1 – 17:42 — Assistant roadie Kevin Harrington distributes orange drinks. Too thin and translucent to be orange juice, not fizzy enough to be mimosas or proper orange soda, this must be one of those weird British drinks that they seem to enjoy as flat and tepid as possible. My guess is it’s “orange squash” of the type made by British brand Robinsons.

1 – 18:44 — Paul seems to have taken up cigar-smoking, probably under the influence of director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who was seen puffing on one in the opening few minutes, and perhaps brought a box to share. Paul’s cigar habit did not seem to last beyond the “Get Back” sessions, and even by the time they switched over to their Apple studio, he was mostly back to cigarettes (with one or two exceptions). 

1 – 19:28 — George waves off a tray of sandwiches, presumably ham and/or roast beef, saying “we don’t eat these.” He’s either facetiously referring to himself with the royal “we,” having been a vegetarian for a while at this point, or referring to himself along with John and Yoko, who stick to a Japanese macrobiotic diet. George does graciously offer a sandwich to Paul, who is still a few years away from going veggie himself, before they’re whisked away by one of the army of people who are hanging around off to the side of the action. 

1 – 19:33 — A cutaway to the supplement/dessert for the sandwiches, now their only snack option: a tray full of, in John’s words, “dry buns” and what appear to be currant or chocolate chip scones. There’s something chocolate-covered, and something cream-filled, but…the Twickenham commissary whiffed it on this one. The tray rests on the drum riser incongruously next to a copy of the Robert Johnson album King of the Delta Blues Singers, a compilation released in 1961, and a major influence on the early British R&B scene. Eventually, the snack of choice for the sessions ends up as toast. So. Much. Toast.

1 – 21:18 — Lindsay-Hogg rather tastelessly jokes that Paul should get a wide-brimmed hat and grow payot (the ringlet sideburns) to go with his black beard, implying that he looks like a Hasidic Jew. “That way we could do [the show] in Israel!” Paul is quite clearly not amused. (Many have remarked on Lindsay-Hogg’s talent for putting his foot in his mouth and not realizing it at all. I know I’m in the minority, but I actually grew kind of fond of Lindsay-Hogg and his upper-class twittery.)

1 – 23:45 — George cracks open the new issue (#66) of The Beatles (Monthly) Book. This was the official fan magazine of the group, established in August of 1963 by publisher Sean O’Mahoney. The Beatles Book issues are now hugely valuable to researchers, as they contain tons of exclusive features, essays, and interviews unavailable anywhere else, written as events were actually happening, before fading memories and the patina of legend hampered secondary historical sources. Issue #66 (January 1969) contained a look back at how the Beatles spent all their New Year’s Days going back to 1962, an account of George’s visit to the U.S. the previous fall written by roadie Mal Evans (who had gone with him), and other bits and pieces. (#77 — December 1969 — was the final original issue, although it has been periodically revived.)  

1 – 29:55 — George’s seemingly random remark — “The Animals reunited” — is true. The British R&B band’s original incarnation ended in December of 1966, but they reunited for a single charity show in their hometown of Newcastle a few weeks before the “Get Back” sessions. 

1 – 37:05 — The arrival of the Lowrey Heritage DSO-1 organ. George was very much inspired by The Band at this time, which had a Lowrey-heavy sound, so it may have been trucked in at his suggestion. However, the Beatles were no stranger to the Lowrey — it was the organ on “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” (set up to sound like a celeste).

1 – 48:10 — For the first time, the idea of adding a fifth instrumentalist to the line-up is mentioned. Since the idea was to have no overdubs on these songs, an extra pair of hands, especially on keyboards, would fill out the sound. (Session pianist Nicky Hopkins, who had played on “Revolution,” is suggested.)

1 – 50:56 — John and Paul take each other’s musical critiques quite well. Paul repeatedly calls the chord changes in “Don’t Let Me Down” “corny” (in this context meaning “clichéd”), and says that the lyrics “aren’t that good.” John simply nods and agrees that the song needs more work. (John bristles more at George’s criticisms, however, but George is blunter, calling the song “shit” at one point.) 

1 – 51:11 — As they continue to work out the arrangement of “Don’t Let Me Down,” they are adding some misguided call-and-response backing vocals. One thing I’ve noticed when listening to Beatles outtakes and works in progress is that they always seem tempted to over-complicate, and add frills and filigrees as they work their way through the song. Once it’s out of their system and they’re confident in the basic arrangement, they strip all that away and the final released version is perfect.

1 – 1:13:41 — The first appearance of the Fender VI six-string bass. Like the Bassman amplifier, it was “gifted” to the Beatles by Fender as part of a marketing push. It was first seen when George Harrison wielded it during the “Hey Jude” promo film (although he didn’t actually play it on the recording).

When the “Get Back” sessions rolled around, the band found themselves in a conundrum. Paul was both the Beatles’ bass guitarist and main pianist. In an ordinary recording session, this was no problem. He would just play one on the basic track and overdub the other later. But their current project had a “no overdubs” rule, and a couple of McCartney’s new songs were heavily piano-based. What to do? Enter the Fender VI. With its six strings, it felt familiar and comfortable to a traditional guitarist like John or George, and could produce some nice, rounded bass tones, especially when played through the Bassman amp. So during Paul’s “piano” songs (“Let It Be” and “The Long And Winding Road” specifically), John strapped on the Fender VI. (He’s not the steadiest of bassists, and later jokingly laments he was only given “two notes” on “Let It Be.”)

1 – 1:17:32 — It didn’t take long to realize the band simply did not have enough new material for the “Get Back” project. They had already dredged up one of John’s pre-Beatles teenage compositions (“One After 909”) to good effect, but they were still scrambling. Then they remembered John’s very pretty “Across The Universe” from an early ‘68 session. The song had sort of fallen through the cracks, and was given away to be included on a charity compilation album for the World Wildlife Fund. Then the charity album itself sort of fell through the cracks as well. “Across The Universe” was ripe for rediscovering…but no one could remember quite how it went. The only copy of the song they had was an acetate demo disc. Someone arranged to have a small portable record player delivered to Twickenham so they could play the disc and re-learn the song. If you’re the Beatles, simply ask for something — anything — and odds are it will be delivered on a silver platter in a matter of hours, or less. (The charity album eventually came out in December 1969, adapting a line from Lennon’s song as its title — No One’s Gonna Change Our World.)

“Across The Universe” made its debut here, in December 1969. It was also included on the Let It Be album six months later

1 – 1:22:08 — In January of 1969, there were only four television channels in England. BBC1, BBC2, ITV, and, as of July 1968, Thames TV. So viewing options were limited. Chatter on Beatles studio outtakes reveal that, if they’d had the previous night off, that night’s television programs were a favorite topic of conversation, since they were dedicated telly-watchers and odds were they’d all watched the same thing. George came in at the start of this day’s rehearsal with a new song about human ego, “I Me Mine,” inspired by a pair of shows he’d watched. As he described one of them in detail — an episode of the sci-fi anthology series Out Of The Unknown — it started to dawn on me that this was the exact same plot as the 1992 mega-turkey Freejack, starring Emilio Estevez and the Beatles’ friend Mick Jagger. (Both the episode and Freejack were based on the 1959 novel Immortality, Inc. by Robert Sheckley.) Yes, I saw Freejack in the theater back in the day.

NOTE: Unlike John, who had a bad case of writer’s block during these sessions, George had been quite prolific, at a rate of almost a song a day. Much has been made of John and Paul’s dismissal of George’s songs at this point, but he had been creating deliberately delicate, down-tempo, contemplative numbers that — by his own admission — were completely unsuitable for the type of live show they were attempting.

1 – 1:25:46 — John’s writer’s block is addressed in a kidding-but-not-kidding exchange between him and Paul as they test microphones. (John: “When I’m up against the wall, Paul, you’ll find I’m at my best.” Paul: “I wish you’d come up with the goods.” John: “Look, I think I’ve got Sunday off.”)

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The Road to Get Back: The Beatles in the Fall & Winter of 1968 (A Prequel, Part 2)

Continuing our look at what the individual Beatles were up to in the short but fascinating (to me at least) gap between finishing the White Album (October 17, 1968) and regathering to begin the “Get Back” project (January 2, 1969). In the last entry, we checked in with Ringo and George. We will now carry on with Paul and John.


Like John, Paul at this time was in the throes of a new and rapidly deepening relationship. For the last three weeks of White Album recording, he had been sharing his home with a blonde New York native named Linda Eastman.

Paul first met Linda on May 15, 1967 at the Bag O’Nails nightclub in London. Linda, a divorcee with a young daughter, had been making a name for herself as a rock photographer, and was in London working on a glossy photo book, Rock and Other Four-Letter Words. She knew Brian Epstein’s assistant, Peter Brown, socially from his frequent trips to New York. When she came to London, she looked up Brown who, in turn, introduced her to Paul. Four days later, on May 19, she finangled an invitation from Brown to attend the exclusive launch party of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at Epstein’s luxurious Belgravia flat, where she took several photos, and was photographed herself, deep in conversation with Paul.

Linda returned to the U.S. and a year passed…John and Paul traveled to New York in mid-May 1968 for a series of interviews and publicity appearances to formally introduce their media company, Apple, to the American press. Linda was in attendance at the May 14 press conference at the Americana Hotel. She managed to slip Paul her phone number on the only bit of paper she could come up with — a blank check. He called her the next day so she could accompany the two Beatles’ entourage on the limo ride to the airport. Paul returned to the U.S. the following month to handle some more Apple business in Los Angeles. He invited Linda to fly across the country and join him for a few days, which she promptly did. When Paul returned to London on June 25, the White Album sessions had finally begun in earnest after a fitful start.

Paul had numerous flings and was seen with a variety of girlfriends that summer (his long-time, on-and-off relationship with actress Jane Asher was by then permanently off), but he admitted his mind kept drifting back to the groovy, laidback blonde photographer, who loved animals, rock music, and marijuana, all things close to his own heart. She came from a wealthy family, so she wasn’t interested in his money. He felt relaxed around her in a way he felt with no one else. As his relationship with the other Beatles worsened, he made a decision. He broke things off with all the other girls he had been seeing and summoned Linda to London — to stay with him permanently. When she arrived at his home at 7 Cavendish Avenue on September 23, 1968, she was told Paul wasn’t at home — he was at Abbey Road (a short walk away) working with the Beatles on the track “Happiness Is A Warm Gun.”

“Happiness Is A Warm Gun,” September 23-24, 1968

She headed over to the studio, and pulled out her ever-present camera to capture the band at work. The following night’s session ended around 2:00 am. The fans that always gathered around his home’s front gates remember that it was a warm night, and Paul was so happy that he serenaded them with “Blackbird” from his open upstairs window.

On October 20, 1968, three days after the White Album was finished, Paul and Linda flew back to New York so Paul could meet Linda’s daughter, Heather (almost six years old), for the first time, and to begin transferring their lives from Manhattan to London. As the couple packed up all of her belongings and made the multitude of other arrangements such a move would necessitate, they lived a simple life at Linda’s soon-to-be empty apartment on East 83rd Street. They wandered the city on foot and by subway. Paul bought an old Army overcoat, and began growing the lush black beard that would earn compliments at the start of the “Get Back” sessions, and would be admired by Beatles fans to this very day, despite the brevity of its existence. (It was shaved off as soon as the sessions were over, right around the time John began growing out his. They practically traded facial hair over four weeks in February ’69. The McCartney Beard returned the next autumn, and then off and on through early ‘71. Apart from two unfortunate mustache dalliances in ‘74 and ‘79, he’s been clean-shaven, publicly at least, ever since.) Many New Yorkers doubtlessly recognized him, but they were too cool and sophisticated to bother him, so he could wander the city unmolested. Song fragments that reflected his upbeat mood began rattling around his head. “Out Of College” and “One Sweet Dream” would eventually make up two of the three sections of the mini-medley “You Never Give Me Your Money” on Abbey Road, and “I’ve Got A Feeling” would soon be blended with a composition of John’s.

The newly-minted family unit returned to London on October 30 (after an overnight visit to Jamaica).

Of all the Beatles, Paul was the only one who chose to make his main residence in the middle of London. But when he finally acquired a country retreat in 1966, it was really a retreat. High Park Farm in Scotland was as remote from London and the hassles of Beatlemania as you could get in the British Isles — almost two hundred acres on the western Highlands peninsula known as Kintyre, centered around a three-room stone cottage with a tin roof, no heat apart from the iron cooking range and a couple of hearths, and no running water.

The High Park Farm cottage as it appeared in the late 1960s. At least there were some primitive electrical lines.

Paul, Linda, and Heather made the trip to High Park Farm on November 5. Conditions were so primitive — Paul had made his own furniture out of scrap wood and potato boxes — that any visit there was basically a camping trip. According to one biographer’s account, nature-loving Linda’s enthusiastic embrace of the place “resolved any lingering doubts Paul may have had about commitment and monogamy.” The trio stayed for two weeks, rambling around the property, which included the remains of a prehistoric hill fort, an ancient standing stone, burns and streams, a herd of sheep tended by hired locals, and a healthy population of rabbits and foxes. From nearby Ranachan Hill, the coast of Ireland was visible on a clear day. 

Paul was back in London by November 20 to record an in-depth interview for Radio Luxembourg to promote the imminent release of the White Album. Paul & Linda continued to be free spirits, taking day trips out of London, refusing to look at road signs and trying deliberately to get lost. This led to Paul writing “On Our Way Back Home” (later to become “Two Of Us”), which, along with “I’ve Got A Feeling,” would be a highlight of the early “Get Back” sessions. 

In late November, Paul invited director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, at that point already in pre-production for a Rolling Stones TV special, to a meeting at Apple, where he offered him the job of directing the film of the “Get Back” concert and its attendant rehearsals in January. Paul and Lindsay-Hogg continued to meet intermittently for the rest of the year, although it’s clear from the conversations in the Get Back documentary not much was resolved ahead of time. (In his memoirs, Lindsay-Hogg remembers all four Beatles attending most of these meetings, but the historical record shows this is highly unlikely, if not a total impossibility. Take memoirs written decades after the fact with a huge grain of salt.)

Beginning on November 22 and running through early December, Paul busied himself producing the first album of his own Apple discovery, Welsh folk singer Mary Hopkin, whose McCartney-produced debut single from August, “Those Were The Days,” topped the British charts. The collection of songs chosen for the album was a mix of old standards and some new originals penned by the likes of Donovan and Harry Nilsson. Paul played on a couple of tracks, but mostly kept himself in a supervisory role up in the studio control room. It is also likely that he taped his message for the Beatles’ Christmas fan club disc during these sessions, busking on an acoustic guitar and improvising some holiday-themed lyrics. The resulting album, Post Card, came out in February 1969, reaching #3 on the U.K. charts.

Glyn Johns, an experienced and respected recording engineer who had worked frequently with The Rolling Stones, remembers Paul contacting him in early December to hire him for the “Get Back” sessions, since they wouldn’t be using the EMI Studios at Abbey Road (or its engineering staff) for the project.

With the Hopkin album wrapped, on December 11 Paul and family flew to Portugal on the spur of the moment to stay with writer Hunter Davies, whose authorized biography of the band had just been published. Davies had invited them via postcard to his villa in Praia da Luz in the southern coastal region known as the Algarve. Linda had recently discovered she was pregnant, and during their time in Portugal they made the decision to get married early in the New Year. They stayed with Davies through December 21.

Paul in Portugal, December 11-21, 1968

Paul, Linda, and Heather spent Christmas with Paul’s father, Jim, and his step-mother and step-sister at the house Paul had bought for them (called “Rembrandt”) in the village of Gayton, near Liverpool.

Paul with his dad Jim, Christmas 1968

John and Paul met up at Paul’s house on Cavendish Avenue at least once in late December, just before the “Get Back” sessions began, and worked out some rough song arrangements ahead of time. When they arrived at Twickenham on January 2, their two separate compositions, “I’ve Got A Feeling” and “Everyone Had A Hard Year” had already been combined into one song.

In Beatles News…

The Beatles, a double album consisting of thirty tracks recorded between May 30 and October 14, hit store shelves on November 22, 1968. Its blank white cover with a slightly crooked, faintly embossed title was intended as a direct contrast to the colorful psychedelia of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and caused the album to immediately be re-christened by the public as “The White Album,” and its actual title was almost never used thereafter. The cover (and the photo collage poster included inside) was designed by artist Richard Hamilton. The first few million pressings of the LP were also individually numbered. (Ringo snagged #000001.) It reached number one on the album charts by December 7, where it remained for seven weeks. (It was still number one when the “Get Back” sessions began.)

In the midst of the promotional push for the White Album (which the Beatles themselves did little for, apart from a few radio interviews), Apple’s search for a proper concert location for the “Get Back” project continued. “We’ll say what we want, then find out if we can,” is how Apple press officer Derek Taylor summed up Apple’s underlying philosophy regarding the project (and most things).

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The Road to Get Back: The Beatles in the Fall & Winter of 1968 (A Prequel, Part 1)

So that’s it for the Marx Brothers…one of the most in-depth research/writing projects I’ve ever done…I spent almost a year on it (off and on, because I do have a life, despite all evidence to the contrary), and I hope it went down OK.

Now things are going to get real Beatle-y around here for a while (casting another load of doubt on the whole “having a life” statement)…

The big question in writing an introduction to something like this is, how much does the reader already know? How much do I recap and rehash? Odds are if you’re reading this, you’re probably something of a Beatles fan to begin with and know at least the basics of their “Get Back”/Let It Be project as it fits into the overall (semi-mythical) Canonical Beatles Narrative:

1. After the tense and fractious sessions for The Beatles (universally known as “The White Album,” which I will call it from this point on) in the summer and fall of 1968, the group wanted to return to basics and do a one-shot concert of all-new material as a simple, stripped-down four-piece band, with an accompanying TV show and album, and without heavy production or a bunch of outside musicians.

2. To that end, in January of 1969 the Beatles gather for a series of filmed rehearsals on a cavernous, mostly empty soundstage at Twickenham Studios, which demonstrate the bitter atmosphere of the White Album sessions has continued.

3. A strung-out John takes little interest in the proceedings as he is totally infatuated with 1) girlfriend (soon to be wife) Yoko Ono, who attends all the sessions attached to his side, and 2) a dangerous flirtation with heroin. Paul tries to keep things on the rails and comes off as domineering. George, fed up with the lack of interest shown in his songs, and with being told what to play and how to play it by Paul, quits the band a week into the rehearsals.

4. George is coaxed back with the promise of a scaled-down version of the project. The “no outside musicians” rule is bent by adding keyboardist Billy Preston to fill out the sound (overdubs on the album are still a no-no at this stage). Preston’s good-natured presence and the conditions of George’s return have relieved a lot of pressure. Once the location switches from the dreary Twickenham soundstage to their home base at Apple, the mood improves noticeably. The sessions are quickly wrapped up, and the climactic concert is performed on the roof, out of sight of the mostly-puzzled Londoners below.

5. The songs are scheduled to come out on an album titled Get Back in the summer of 1969, but everyone is thoroughly sick of the project and its bad vibes, and it’s shelved at the last minute in favor of (temporarily) burying the hatchet in order to start work on Abbey Road, which comes out in September 1969 to universal acclaim.

Before it was cancelled, the intended Get Back album made it as far as a cover design, parodying the photo and text of The Beatles’ first British album Please Please Me

6. Re-titled Let It Be, the former “Get Back” album is heavy-handedly remixed by Phil Spector. The accompanying 80-minute documentary is edited in such a way that it seems to capture a bored band’s dissolution, and is considered depressing and dreary by just about everyone who watches it. Album and film come out in May 1970, and are viewed as the Beatles’ swan song (even though the superior Abbey Road was recorded after it).

7. About fifty years later, acclaimed director Peter Jackson wonders if there’s something in the almost sixty hours of footage captured by original director Michael Lindsay-Hogg that maybe tells a different story. He goes back, digitally cleans and brightens up the grainy old film, and pieces together an entirely different documentary that shows there were a lot of good, fun moments in those sessions, that the band members didn’t seem to hate each other, and that there was still some joy left in the Beatles’ tank.

And I just went and recapped it, didn’t I?

Speaking of recapping, one of the more underrated elements in Peter Jackson’s three-part, eight-hour documentary The Beatles: Get Back is its opening montage — succinctly summarizing the history of the Beatles in a little under eleven minutes. The rest of the documentary is given over to the January 1969 rehearsal/recording sessions, but the average viewer will find that they have been given the proper context, and the stage is set to see how these sessions play out.

I am not the average viewer. When it comes to the Beatles, I get a little detail-obsessed, as we’ll see here and in the next couple of entries. 

After that short opening sequence, we are dropped in right on the first day’s rehearsal on January 2, 1969, fly-on-the-wall style, watching the band members arrive and wish each other Happy New Year. I began wondering, when did they last see each other? What happened in the relatively short amount of time between the White Album sessions and the “Get Back” sessions? What were the just-passed holidays like for them? They weren’t exactly starting this project with a bumper crop of much-needed new songs. Had they been writing? What recent experiences were on their minds when they sat down and noodled the first few notes of an embryonic “Don’t Let Me Down” on Day One?

It turns out the time between the end of recording the White Album and the beginning of “Get Back” (only about ten-and-a-half weeks!) was quite eventful, professionally and especially personally, for all of them, and is a little-explored area of Beatles history. 

[NOTE: Although I’ll refer to the project as “Get Back,” that song would not be composed until January, and the sessions would not be referred to by that name until after they were over.]

In the summer of 1968, Ringo (who, of all the Beatles, seemed to have the most potential as a film actor) accepted the co-starring role in an upcoming film starring Peter Sellers, whom Ringo had known socially for some time. The film, titled The Magic Christian and based on a satirical novel by Terry Southern (who also penned the script), wasn’t due to begin shooting until late January of 1969. In hectic Beatle-time, where every day was packed, that seemed like a million years in the future. The date eventually snuck up on them, as we’ll see.

The germ of the idea of a return to live performance came from shooting a promotional film for their summer single, “Hey Jude/Revolution” at Twickenham Film Studios on September 4, 1968 in front of — and at the end of “Hey Jude,” surrounded by — a live audience.

The film was directed by former Ready, Steady, Go! director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who had also directed the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer/Rain” promos back in 1966. For the first time since their pre-fame days, hysterical screams did not drown out the music. Their teenage fans from the old moptop era were growing older and more sophisticated, and wanted to actually listen.

Though not a fully “live” performance — they did some takes with the vocals live, but all the instruments had been pre-recorded — the filming was a nice break from the White Album sessions, and sparked a desire to do at least one real concert as soon as possible. (That desire was sparked mainly in Paul, who initally suggested popping up unannounced in pubs and small nightclubs under an assumed name. John and George immediately dismissed that idea out of hand, but were open to a single performance. It was quickly decided that the songs performed would be the debut of all-new original material, something they had never done before, which appealed to group’s sense of novelty and distaste for repeating themselves artisically.)

Preliminary arrangements and some pre-planning for the show began almost immediately at the Beatles’ new self-owned management/multi-media company, Apple Corps Ltd., located at 3 Savile Row in the heart of London’s garment district. Since original manager Brian Epstein’s death the previous year, “preliminary arrangements” and “pre-planning” were not really the Beatles’ (or Apple’s) strongest areas. Often guilty of a blithe disinterest in their affairs ouside of making music, the Beatles always expected things to just sort of fall into place — not knowing that it used to be Epstein, working feverishly behind the scenes, who made everything happen according to their whims. The concert idea aimlessly drifted around for awhile, with a few idle stabs at making specific plans. Finishing the in-the-works album was the priority.

Finishing the White Album, September-October 1968

The last time all four Beatles were together before the “Get Back” rehearsals was likely October 13, 1968 at EMI Studios in St. John’s Wood, London. (Although its address was Abbey Road, the building itself would not be officially renamed “Abbey Road Studios” until 1976.)

It was one of the last recording sessions for the White Album. The final song for the album, John’s beautiful “Julia,” was recorded that day, along with mono and stereo mixing for several songs as the album was nearing completion. “Julia” was a solo performance by John on his acoustic guitar, with none of the other Beatles performing, but as per established custom, it is almost certain they were all in the studio — once a session was underway, inspiration could strike, or a song could need a new overdub. (An EMI staff member remembers Ringo often sitting in the studio’s reception area reading a newspaper while the others worked on non-drum business. Ringo himself remembers Sgt. Pepper as “the album where I learned to play chess.” But he was dutifully on the premises if needed.)

Paul runs the mixing console as George Martin and Ringo observe, October 1968

But sometimes, a well-earned vacation just can’t wait…Ringo left on holiday the following day, October 14, which saw more mixing and the final overdubs for George’s “Savoy Truffle.”

And then there were two…with all recording officially finished, George left on business on October 16. Beginning at five that evening, and running until five the following evening, John, Paul, and Beatles producer George Martin supervised all of the final cross-fades, edits, and sequencing for the sprawling double album. 

John & Paul working out the White Album running order, October 16-17, 1968

No doubt exhausted after a 24-hour work cycle, a bleary-eyed John and Paul walked out of the studio doors in the early evening of October 17 leaving a completed album ready for mastering and release. Beatle business continued whirring away at Apple, including (minimal) planning of the still-nebulous concert, but the Beatles themselves would follow their own separate paths for awhile.


The least busy during this “time off” was, perhaps unsurprisingly, Ringo Starr. 

George’s forthcoming stomping out of the band in January became more well-known, but it was Ringo who actually quit the band first (and for almost twice as long), back in August, when he could no longer bear the arguments and dysfunction of the White Album sessions. He escaped to the Mediterranean with his wife, Maureen, and two young sons, Zak and Jason. There they were granted the use of Peter Sellers’ yacht and its crew as it cruised around the island of Sardinia. Ringo’s famous story about the yacht captain telling him about octopi (who are quite intelligent for mollusks) gathering stones and colorful shells to make seafloor “gardens,” which inspired his Beatles composition “Octopus’s Garden,” may date from this trip. (“May”? See below.) After two weeks of sunshine and reflection, and an apologetic telegram from the other three (“come on home, we love you”), he re-joined the band the day before the “Hey Jude/Revolution” filming, and subsequent completion of the White Album. (They had recorded “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and “Dear Prudence” in his absence, with the other three — mainly Paul — filling in on drums.)

Ringo had fallen in love with Sardinia, and decided to repeat the whole experience (in a happier frame of mind). He and Maureen packed up the family again and departed London on October 14. Some sources say he borrowed Sellers’ yacht once more, and the octopus story dates from this second visit. (I lean toward believing it did happen on the second trip — the way he bashfully shows off a fragment of the song during the “Get Back” rehearsals speaks to it being a new creation, something that happened while they were apart from each other.) 

Ringo and company arrive at the Costa Smeralda, Sardinia, on October 14, 1968

The Starkey family returned on October 28 to face the daunting prospect of packing up and moving house. 

Since the money started really rolling in back in early ‘65, John and Ringo had lived less than a mile apart, each in rambling mock-Tudor…well, not quite mansions, but certainly damn big houses, located in the exclusive St. George’s Hill area near the village of Weybridge, just under twenty miles southwest of London. The region was known as the “stockbroker’s belt” due to it being a comfortable country retreat for wealthy London businessmen. John’s house — “Kenwood” — is well-known in Beatle lore for being the site of many songwriting sessions with Paul, for the music room up in the attic where he experimented with instruments and tape reels (and various substances), and for the tiny sunroom annex where he read, wrote, lounged, and stared at the muted telly for inspiration. John had been photographed many times in and around Kenwood, despite his claims that he didn’t care much for the place, being too bourgeois and staid for his restless nature. 

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The Spotify Chronicles, Vol. 8: Sell Outs and Rave Ups

Dateline: Davis, CA. COVID-19 “shelter-in-place” quarantine, March 18 through…?, 2020

This is the final entry in the Spotify Chronicles…and it’s a long one — it even has an “epilogue” — but I think it’s interesting enough to justify it’s length. 

If you were listening to BBC Radio in, say, 1964, you’d never know there was a musical revolution underway. The staid, stuffy British Broadcasting Corporation offered listeners what they high-handedly judged was “good for them” (rather than what they may have “wanted.”) A slate of news, educational programs, children’s shows, classical music, and “light entertainment.” Pop music was considered the latter, and had to share the category with comedy programs, quiz shows, and variety shows. So, pop music got about six hours a week, and pop music records got still fewer (Musicians’ Union rules strictly limited “needle time” on broadcast radio). Many performers were invited to play “live in studio” (resulting in a glut of CD-era “Live At The BBC” collections put out by every major British band from back in the day). Everything was presented by very proper announcers reading from carefully prepared scripts — commercial-free. It was government-owned and funded by listeners paying a small annual licensing fee.


Some entrepreneurial types decided to meet market demand by pumping out a steady diet of pop, rock, and soul records from ships moored in international waters, just over three miles off the British coast. These “pirate radio” stations lifted the entire format of American Top 40 radio — hip, freewheeling DJs, loud jingles, brash promos, and actual commercials (!) The signals weren’t always perfect (although on a good night they could reach over 12 million British listeners), and the rocking waves sometimes caused the records to skip, but pirate radio stations like Radio London and Radio Caroline exposed the Brits to all the latest American acts, and gave an important boost to up-and-coming British groups like the Yardbirds and the Who.

The British government passed the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act in August 1967, effectively shutting down the pirates. Luckily, the BBC had seen the light and re-organized their radio division, launching Radio 1 as an all-popular music format…and hiring many of the old pirate DJs. It wasn’t quite the same, though. The frisson and excitement associated with the pirates’ rebellious flaunting of authority was missing. 


Which brings me to the Who. In 1967, after a few years of being a reliable singles act in Britain, the Who was finally gaining an American audience, after noteworthy performances at the Monterey Pop Festival in June and a literally explosive appearance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in September. At a transitional time when albums were starting to eclipse singles as the preferred form of rock expression, the band went back into the studio that autumn to complete their third LP (begun in piecemeal fashion through that spring and summer), knowing it would have to outclass their first two if they were to continue their climb to the top. These recording sessions coincided with the snuffing out of the pirate radio stations. The Who decided to make an album in their honor to thank them for all they had done (the Who were favorites of the pirate DJs, and got played a lot).


Monterey Pop Festival, June 1967

The result was my all-time favorite album by the Who — The Who Sell Out, released in the waning days of 1967, and a pop-art masterpiece. The album’s concept was that it would replicate a pirate radio station broadcast — right down to the jingles, promos, and commercials. (The initial intention was to actually sell advertising space between songs.) 

The material that chief songwriter Pete Townshend came up with for this set is melancholy and yearning, eschewing the band’s usual heavy sound. Drummer Keith Moon’s typical wild-man flailing is kept on a short leash. The love songs “I Can’t Reach You” and “Our Love Was” have moments of ethereal beauty, and showcase the Who’s underrated harmony-singing skills. The delicate “Sunrise” is just Towshend and a 12-string acoustic. In fact, Townshend’s thin, fragile voice gets more leading roles on Sell Out than any other Who album. Even when usual lead vocalist Roger Daltrey appears with his more powerful “rock” voice, he’s alternating or singing in unison with Townshend, as on the organ-driven “Relax” and the irresistibly melodic duet “Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand,” about a girl with a certain skill that raises more than just eyebrows. Two songs, “Tattoo” and “Odorono,” are perfectly conceived little short stories, with dramatic arcs and sympathetic characters. “Tattoo” is a coming-of-age tale about two teen brothers getting their first ink, and “Odorono” is, well…read on.


The iconic Sell Out album cover. No one bothered to warm up the refrigerated beans — Roger Daltrey came down with pneumonia

Bassist John Entwistle contributes another macabre fantasy character vignette, “Silas Stingy” (similar to his earlier “Boris the Spider” and “Whiskey Man”). The album closes with “Rael,” a sketchy condensement of a much longer “rock opera” about a dystopian conflict between the Communist Chinese and Israel in the distant future of 1999. The long-form rock narrative/musical story format was something Towshend had been tinkering with since the nine-minute “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” on their previous album. (As for the under-six minute “Rael,” Townshend lamented “No one will ever know what it means, it’s been squeezed up too tightly to make sense.”) Some musical themes from “Rael” would be recycled for their next album, Tommy (1969), where the rock opera concept achieved its full fruition.

There are two exceptions to the overall gentleness displayed on Sell Out. The opening track “Armenia City in the Sky,” was written by Townshend protege Speedy Keen (later of cult favorite Thunderclap Newman) and performed by the Who as a trippy, dissonant, thumping wall of sound and echoes. Then there’s the album’s centerpiece, “I Can See For Miles,” in which all the trademark moves of the Who — full-cry volume, Daltery’s menacing snarl, Entwistle’s bass guitar rumblings, Towshend’s windmill guitar-thrashing, and Moon’s cataclysmic, cannon-fire drumming — are on conspicuous display in a proto-metal howl of betrayal and recrimination. (Townshend’s bragging in an interview that “I Can See For Miles” was the “loudest, rawest, dirtiest” song ever recorded goaded Paul McCartney into writing “Helter Skelter.” Check and mate.)

Screen Shot 2016-10-01 at 10.33.10 AM

Interspersed between these songs are all the trappings of a pirate radio broadcast. The promos and jingles are the real deal, from actual Radio London broadcasts. When the idea of selling commercial space on the album quickly fell through, the Who concocted and performed original ads. They vary in length and style. Some are fragments lasting a few seconds (including spots for Rotosound guitar strings, the Charles Atlas workout program, and the Who’s favorite after-hours hangout, the Speakeasy Club). Some, such as “Heinz Baked Beans” and “Medac” (promoting a pimple cream) are catchy, minute-long novelty songs. And one was a full-length, heartbreaking tale of ambition and rejection, set to one of Towenshend’s most beautiful, lilting melodies…all to advertise the underarm deodorant, Odorono.

The Who Sell Out is often regarded as one of the first “concept” albums. But for whatever reason, the Who opted to only use the “pirate radio broadcast” concept through the first half of the album. Side two, with the exception of Entwistle’s “Medac” song/commercial, has no ads or jingles. This was rectified with an excellent 1995 CD reissue where the idea was finally carried through to the end of the album by adding some more Radio London jingles, repeating some slight variations of side one ads, using some outtake ads the Who recorded but didn’t use for the album, and digging up some radio ads they recorded earlier that year intended for actual broadcast. When I speak of Sell Out as my favorite Who album, it’s really this CD reissue I’m thinking of, where the concept runs to the finish.


The Yardbirds fascinated me as soon as I heard of them. Here was a band that provided a launching pad for three of the greatest British guitarists ever — Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. They weren’t in the band all at the same time, of course. The universe couldn’t handle that degree of awesomeness without tearing itself asunder. (Beck and Page did overlap for a few brief months.) Clapton left early, and Page came late, leaving Beck in the lead guitarist slot through most of what could be considered the Yardbirds’ “classic” period.

R-4237397-1447215065-2562.jpegThe Yardbirds discography was a mess for a long time, their relatively small output licensed over and over again for a parade of cheap reissues. My first Yardbirds CD was one of these “budget label” compilations. Part of Pair Records’ “Best of British Rock” series, the cover had a photo of the Beck-era band, with Clapton very clumsily pasted into the image so it looked like he and Beck were in the band together. Nowadays, the band’s digital-era discography has been squared away considerably. All of their pre-“Roger the Engineer” (see below) output can fit easily on two discs.

If there’s a downside to listening to the Yardbirds, it’s that every pre-“Roger” Yardbirds recording currently available is of dubious audio quality. It’s partly due to lack of access to the original masters, as a variety of companies have claims over various recordings, and it’s said that EMI is still refusing to turn over certain master tapes to compilers due to an unpaid studio bill from 1965 (that may be nothing more than an “urban rock legend” at this point). And it’s partly (maybe mostly) due to the recordings being made in a hurry and on the cheap in the first place.

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The Spotify Chronicles, Vol. 7: The King, Queen, and a Prince

Dateline: Davis, CA. COVID-19 “shelter-in-place” quarantine, March 18 through…?, 2020.

Exploring just a few of my Spotify playlists in roughly alphabetical order.

As I add my little autobiographical notes, try not to get chronological whiplash as I wildly veer back and forth between modern-day, my college years, my middle school years, and pre-school…

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers were the best American band of the last four decades. Fight me.

Notice I didn’t say “greatest.” They had no interest creating moments of “sweeping grandeur” or delivering Major Statements. I didn’t say “innovative,” either. Several bands can probably top them on that. No, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers simply settled for being the best, especially when you consider the length of their career. (Yes, best vs. greatest is a distinction I make in my own mind, but I think you know what I mean.)


They were always getting left out of the conversation because they made it look too easy. Whenever there would be debates about “best bands,” and people would be throwing around their R.E.M.s and Radioheads, it would always be up to me to say, “What about Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers?” There was always a short pause, then a lot of nodding and people murmuring “ohhh, yeah…” They were never #1 on anyone’s list, and often forgotten about…but no one could deny the goods they brought to the table, year in and year out.

Petty’s first two albums without the Heartbreakers — Full Moon Fever (1989) and Wildflowers (1994) also generated tons of favorites. In fact, the casual listener might be more familiar with Petty’s solo work than his Heartbreakers stuff. “Free Fallin’,” “Runnin’ Down A Dream,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” and several other radio staples all came from his solo work. Wildflowers is probably one of my top ten albums of all time (I haven’t ranked them in quite awhile), and Petty was working on an expanded, deluxe, remastered re-issue at the time of his death. (It finally came out on October 16th of last year.)

I’m convinced any doubters would be turned into Petty fans if they took the time to sit through Peter Bogdanovich’s four-hour documentary Runnin’ Down A Dream, perhaps the greatest (now I will say “greatest”) rock documentary ever if you have anything approaching an attention span. Behind his laidback demeanor and crooked grin, Petty ran the Heartbreaks like a benevolent dictator, an iron fist in a velvet glove. Always collaborative, always respectful…but undoubtedly always in charge. He had a steely resolve and a stubborn streak, but was one of the most principled and generous people in the rock & roll pantheon. Lead guitarist Mike Campbell was the “Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers” of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers — underrated and overlooked, never getting his due as one of the best guitarists of the modern era. Keyboardist Benmont Tench was valued for his keen wit, his unerring taste, and reliable bullshit detector, not to mention his formidable, classically-trained musicianship. 


To my (incredibly over-biased) ears, even their lowest moments never dipped too far below their high bar. Yes, the loose concept album The Last DJ (2002) didn’t really coalesce all that well, Mojo (2010) suffered from bloat, and Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) (1987) — the lowest of their not-that-low — sounded exhausted even in its title…but that’s about it. Three clunkers in forty years. I’ll take it. (OK, four clunkers — Petty’s third and final solo album, 2006’s Highway Companion, didn’t quite do it for me.)

Anyway, Tom Petty is really the founder of our little feast here. His death in October of 2017 spurred me to sign up to Spotify and begin laboring over my in-tribute playlist. He is one of the few artists to earn “100 song” status, and it’s still the playlist I’m proudest of — the perfect blend of major hits, deep album cuts, live tracks, obscurities, and side-project stuff. 

huge_avatarAs much as I hate the trite term, seeing Tom Petty in concert was on my “bucket list.” I somehow kept missing him. I’d seen the Stones (twice). I’d seen Dylan (twice). I’d seen the Who (still with Entwistle). I’d seen McCartney. Petty was the only empty spot on my trophy shelf. The closest I came was when the woman I was dating in 2006 got us tickets, but we broke up before the concert. She ended up going with her ex-husband. So it goes.

For his 40th Anniversary Tour, I was gifted tickets by my wife Shannon’s family as an early birthday present. Just in time, too. Petty had been hinting this would be the last time he toured on this scale. The show was going to be at Sacramento’s brand-new Golden 1 Center, and was scheduled for August 25, 2017 — then was cancelled at the literal last minute. My in-laws were already on their way up from the Bay Area to join us when we got the alert on our phone — “As Tom Petty heals from laryngitis and bronchitis, he has been advised to take additional days off before performing.” My in-laws had to settle for dinner and a movie.

The show was re-scheduled for September 1. The in-laws made the trek east into the Sacramento Valley once more. This time, they were plunged into a pit of hellfire. I was afraid the respiratory-challenged Petty would cancel again — the air was soupy and almost unbreathable. Raging wildfires are now a seasonal event here in California, and we had a lively one going up in Butte County not too far away. The temperature hovered around 100 as the sun set, visible as a fiercely-glowing coal on the western horizon through layers of gray ash. Several people milling around the exterior of the Golden 1 Arena were actually wearing masks — an unusual and almost comical sight…at the time.


The Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, CA

Settling into my arena seat with a beer in hand, the conditions outside were forgotten. The opening act was a group of young Petty proteges from L.A., the Shelters. The sound was horrendous, but those kids were clearly having a blast being a rock & roll band, leaping around the stage and striking poses for the still-filling arena. 

Once they wrapped up and cleared the stage, it wasn’t more than a few minutes before the house lights dimmed. (That’s what I love about attending concerts with an audience that skews, shall we say, older. They always start on time, because everyone wants to be in bed by ten-thirty.) Heartbreakers drummer Steve Ferrone came out to huge applause. He settled himself onto the drum stool, and gave his bass drum a few tentative kicks. I could feel the reverberation in my breastbone. Oh, this was going to be loud. The the rest of the Heartbreakers wandered onto the stage, putting down water bottles and picking up instruments. Then, in an instant, the house lights dropped altogether, the stage was awash in green and blue lights, and the Man Himself was before us — heavily bearded and in shades, blasting out the opening chords to “Rockin’ Around (With You)” from their 1976 debut album.


Onstage at the Golden 1 — September 1, 2017

It was definitely a “greatest hits” type set, and fully half the songs were from his solo albums, a testament to their overall popularity. “Don’t Come Around Here No More” closed with an appropriately psychedelic extended freak-out, and Mojo’s “I Should Have Known It” pulsed with new life, re-interpreted as a Clapton-style blues guitar showcase for Mike Campbell. The sound was still a little muddy (basketball arenas are not concert halls), but the power and authority of the performance was towering. I emerged into the dark, smoky air deliriously happy, the encore “American Girl” still ringing in my ears. I looked forward to seeing Petty again someday in what he said would be his new concert incarnation — smaller, more intimate venues, stripped-down, Deep Cuts.

Petty played four more shows after Sacramento — the KAABOO Festival in Del Mar, then three nights at the Hollywood Bowl. Then he died on October 2, 2017 from a cardiac arrest triggered by an overdose of pain medication. The night I saw him, he was likely in agony the whole time from a fractured hip, but soldiered on and played a great show. He kept quiet about the hip injury in order to finish the tour and keep his band and his road crew employed.


(Pointless aside — according to my research, it is more stylistically correct to keep the article “the” before a band name lowercase unless it starts the sentence. It’s “the Beatles,” not “The Beatles,” despite what 9 out of 10 websites and even many professional writers go with. So I’ve been sticking to that rule. Unless the band name follows an ampersand. I don’t care what’s stylistically correct, “Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers” just looks wrong to my tiny mind. It’ll be “Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers” here.)

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The Spotify Chronicles, Vol. 5: The Hollies Get Their Due (and Satan Pays a Call)

Dateline: Davis, CA. COVID-19 “shelter-in-place” quarantine, March 18 through…?, 2020.

Exploring just a few of my Spotify playlists in roughly alphabetical order.

(Despite these Chronicles being based around the concept of online streaming of music, I’m starting to notice them developing into a love letter to the CD era.)

File under Still Making New Discoveries of Old Stuff…the Hollies. 

44168615._SX318_If there’s one website that is more rambling, disjointed, and long-winded than this one, it’s Alan’s Album Archives. (“If A Review Doesn’t Reach 7,000 Words, We’re Disappointed.”) He has even spun it into a little cottage industry, self-publishing $7 e-books that collect all his reviews and essays on a particular artist. For the most part, his tastes run parallel to mine (and when we diverge, we widely diverge), so I happily bought a few to support a fellow enthusiast. I don’t think even Alan himself would deny he needs an editor for simple fact-checking. He mishears lyrics (sometimes to hilarious effect), struggles with understanding American vernacular (not his fault, he’s a Brit), mixes up names and timelines with annoying frequency, and I know he knows better. His stuff is just so long even he doesn’t want to go back and read it a second time. His Beatles book is a non-stop litany of glaring factual errors. In fact, Kindle tells me I’ve only made it 42% through it. I keep trying, I make it through a couple of pages, then come across another howler and have to slam it shut again. And he doesn’t seem sure what a pedal steel guitar actually is. (No, that’s not a “pedal steel” on “I Need You,” it’s Harrison playing his 12-string Rickenbacker with a volume-swell pedal*. I mean, come on, Alan…)

In both Alan’s Beatles and Stones books, he mentions the Hollies on every few pages in the same breath as the two great titans of British rock…as if they were somehow equal or something. (“If not the greatest band of the 1960s then arguably the most consistently great band of the 1960s” made me blurt-laugh out loud, not only for its hyperbole, but for its weird semi-redundancy.) Were they actually comparable?

Short answer: Not even close. Long answer…read on.

The Hollies consisted of Graham Nash (rhythm guitar, vocals), Allan Clarke (vocals, harmonica), Tony Hicks (lead guitar, vocals), Eric Haydock (bass), and Bobby Elliott (drums). Bernie Calvert replaced Haydock on bass in mid-1966. All were very good instrumentalists — Hicks was a particularly nimble lead guitarist for the early 60s beat-group era (I love almost all of his solos, even if the song itself is a dog), Haydock pioneered the use of the six-string bass, and Elliott’s tumbling fills kicked pretty damn hard. The three vocalists were each capable of taking the lead (Clarke’s soulful, mid-range voice most often), but harmonies were their trademark. 

The Hollies shared a label (Parlophone) and a studio (Abbey Road) with the Beatles. Beatles producer George Martin’s assistant, Ron Richards, was the Hollies’ long-time producer. Richards had a good ear, a solid technical background, and worked hard to present the Hollies as best he knew how. But he was not a musician as Martin was, and he was not a boundary-pusher. 

Maybe due to this too-close-for-comfort proximity, the Beatles themselves never cared much for the Hollies — Lennon in particular thought they were saccharine and twee (the Beatles would never stoop to doing a song as stupefyingly cringe-worthy as “Fifi the Flea”), and copied the Beatles’ three-part harmonies a little too slavishly. Harrison said they were “all right musically” (meaning they were skilled players, which they were, see above), but “did their recordings like session men who’ve just got together in a studio without ever seeing each other before.” A little harsh, but yes, there was sometimes a lack of cohesion. And he called their cover of his “If I Needed Someone” “soul-less.” Which it sort of was, but give them credit for the audacity of recording a Beatles song before the original was released (presumably Ron Richards got them an advance copy of the song to work from, and at least two Hollies were under the very mistaken impression that Harrison had written it specifically for them). 

Instead of blazing their own trail, the Hollies seem preoccupied with giving listeners what they think they would want, which is admirable in a way, but not a Path to Greatness. It’s ironic that their second album was called In the Hollies Style, because the Hollies had no discernible style for most of the Sixties, and spent the decade casting around — at times desperately — for a unique voice. 


Like most early British Invasion bands, the first couple of Hollies albums were filled with watered-down, very Anglicized R&B covers, but they certainly didn’t lack for energy. By the time of their third album, original compositions began sneaking in, which was good news. The bad news was that a lot of their early originals weren’t all that good, making their albums very patchy indeed.

The Hollies were irrevocably a singles band. And they were great singles. From their third single (a raucous cover of Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs’ “Stay”) in late ‘63 through to “Listen To Me” at the end of ‘68, the Hollies ripped through nuggets of 45 rpm ear candy at a rate of about three per year, including two of the Holy Bee’s all-time favorites — “Bus Stop” and “Carrie Anne.” And most of the B-sides were just as good as the As. To be fair, until Tommy, the mighty Who were “just” a singles band too.

They never really took off in the U.S. at that time, except for the Top 5 “Bus Stop” in the summer of ‘66. Just when things were starting to get interesting (their two 1967 albums, Evolution and Butterfly, are quite good forays into lightweight psychedelia), just when their original songwriting was coming into focus — co-founder and band visionary Graham Nash quit, bored by the band’s old-fashioned traditionalist attitude, and turned off by their showbizzy audience pandering. (The first album after he left was The Hollies Sing Dylan.) He moved out to California and became part of the three-headed ego monster known as Crosby, Stills & Nash, who would stop squabbling every seven or eight years to bore us with another Laurel Canyon soft-rock yawnfest.


The Hollies soldiered on (with former Swinging Blue Jean Terry Sylvester in Nash’s place), and finally found American success with syrupy, mawkish ballads like “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” and “The Air That I Breathe.” Their highest-charting U.S. single was “Long, Cool Woman in a Black Dress,” such a blatant rip-off of Creedence Clearwater Revival that many people to this day don’t know that it’s not actually CCR yammering about “working for the FBI” with “whiskey bottles piling high” over swamp-rock guitar licks. (Credit to Clarke and Hicks for combining to form a single John Fogerty with a fair degree of accuracy.) 

So…no, the Hollies could not match the flat-out genius of the Beatles, nor the dark, menacing magnetism of the Stones, nor even the fractured, intermittent brilliance of the Kinks. But in exploring these questions, I grew to like the Hollies much more than I thought I would, and ended up giving them a playlist — but only through the Nash years. If I never hear “The Air That I Breathe” again, it will be too soon.

When I was doing my old iPod playlists a decade ago, I learned a valuable lesson about two important artists: I don’t need any more Billy Joel or Elton John than what is available on a good, solid, well-compiled two-disc best-of. The gold standard of that format were the “Essential” sets. Remember those? Sony used to do ‘em back in the CD era, and any major artist who is or has been on a Sony-owned label — which is about a third of them (Columbia, RCA, Epic, Legend, several more) — have one. Almost all of them were double discs, and I always thought they were very thoughtfully put together.


Many will argue, but I did not find a lot of unheralded gems buried in John’s or Joel’s albums. Their hits were undeniable monsters, but their obscurities are probably obscure for a reason. 

Someone once told a story on a podcast — it may have been NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour — about meeting & interviewing Elton John in his luxurious hotel suite several years back. Elton’s management hinted that Elton would be happy to play him a song after the interview. The intrepid young podcaster, wishing to impress Elton, picked something from side two of Madman Across the Water. When the song was requested, Elton roared “Are you fucking kidding me? I haven’t played that song since I recorded it forty-five fucking years ago! I have no idea how it goes!” He then proceeded to play “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” for presumably the 14,000th time.

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The Spotify Chronicles, Vol. 4: “Heroes” and Rumours

Dateline: Davis, CA. COVID-19 “shelter-in-place” quarantine, March 18 through…?, 2020

Continuing a COVID-quaratined, too-much-free-time glance through just a few of my Spotify playlists, in roughly alphabetical order…

To re-iterate, a lot of this is adapted and expanded from material originally posted on the Idle Time messaging app in March/April. The Holy Bee is a proud recycler. That’s why when some artists are under review (eg. Fleetwood Mac), the focus is on a single song — it’s a holdover from our lengthy “Billboard Hot 100” discussions.

I have probably taken more abuse from the Idle Time guys for liking the Black Crowes than for any other reason. (Although just as I’m typing this, WH messaged me that he may never forgive me for putting “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis & The News on our collaborative Best of the 80s playlist, which evidently represents a new low for my group contributions. WH has always been deeply suspicious of fun and joy.)

I’ve always admired and respected David Bowie more than I actually enjoyed listening to him. Something about his mannered vocals, his multiple irony-drenched personas, and cool detachment left me a little put off. He’s another one of those artists that everyone in my peer group loves, and I just don’t “get.” He’s obviously very gifted, eager to experiment, never bound by convention, but…I don’t seem to feel that special resonance that so many revel in. Camp theatricality was never my preferred mode of artistic expression. I gravitated toward the earnest straightforwarndess of Springsteen and Petty, or the evocative wordplay of Dylan.

I have been reading Rob Sheffield’s book-length fan letter On Bowie, and it brought things into a little more focus. What self-conscious adolescent hasn’t experimented with looks and personas, discarding them as soon as a new one springs to mind? Who hasn’t covered their desire to belong with a mask of cool detachment? Bowie was a voice for any kid who struggled with their identity, their sexuality, or the hurt of being an alienated outsider of any stripe. And maybe that’s why his material never resonated with me. Any teenager or young adult will have their moments (or months or years) of feeling rejected and unwanted, and I certainly did. But I was never cut to the core by any of it. My issues were few and I was always comfortable in my own skin. So Bowie was not speaking to me on that frequency.


David Bowie first made a big national splash in the UK on a 1972 episode of Top of the Pops, performing “Starman.” Sheffield goes on to note all the young and impressionable kids watching that day: “Every future legend in the British Isles was tuned in. Morrissey was watching. So was Johnny Marr. Siouxsie was watching. Robert Smith was watching. Duran Duran were watching. So were Echo and the Bunnymen. Dave Gahan…Bauhaus. Jarvis Cocker. Jesus, Mary, and their Chain…”

To a name, all of them artists I am either lukewarm on, or really don’t much like at all. That’s what Bowie’s legacy has been to me.

But what of the music itself? What better time than during a pandemic-enforced, in-home exile to give Bowie’s catalog a re-listen? Wait here.

[Three days later.]

OK, done. I decided not to start at the very beginning, but jumped right in at what Sheffield considers his peak run — 1975’s Young Americans through 1980’s Scary Monsters, and then circled back to his earlier material.

I have mixed feelings about Young Americans. David Sanborn’s attention-hog of a saxophone is all over this pastiche of “Philly soul.” (Both Springsteen and Bowie are guilty of being waaay too in love with the saxophone, which I have an unshakeable prejudice against, at least on songs recorded by white dudes after 1963. What’s a way to make an otherwise good song sound totally stupid and corny? Throw on a big, dumb ol’ sax solo.) The cover of “Across the Universe” makes me cringe — Bowie spends the whole tuneless song sounding as if he’s got something unpleasant caught in his throat. When the album does coalesce, it showcases two of my all-time favorite Bowie songs — the excellent title track, and the equally-excellent  #1 single “Fame” (a collaboration with John Lennon, who must have at least tacitly endorsed Bowie’s “Across the Universe.”). Then there’s “Fascination.” Something about “Fascination” made me prick up my ears, and I couldn’t put my finger on it, then I realized it was a re-working of Stevie Wonder’s “Supersition.” Bowie is a musical magpie, taking shiny bits and pieces from other sources, and adapting them into his own vision.

I found myself enjoying almost every track on Station To Station, which is frequently described as the transitional album between the glam/soul style of his early 70s work to the Krautrock and electronica-influenced “Berlin Trilogy” of the late 70s, when the cocaine-addled Bowie fled the L.A. scene to get his head together in the austere German capital.

The Berlin Trilogy (Low and “Heroes,” both 1977, and 1979’s Lodger) represents Bowie at his most sonically experimental (for now). All three albums utilized the same core rhythm section, which never failed to play with urgency and a peculiar, visceral crunch. Brian Eno provided his trademark spacey keyboard texturing. On the first two albums, there is a clear divide between side one — all propulsion, energy, and mini-hooks — and side two, a sequence of ambient soundscapes with minimal vocals.

If you’re like me, and even the words “ambient soundscape” inspire an inner eye roll, at least it can be said that Berlin Trilogy’s ambient soundscapes are probably the best of that particular style you’re going to hear. There are nice world music flourishes, and the momentum never wanders off into ethereal noodling.

Lodger doesn’t adhere to that format quite as much, and I feel it’s the weakest of the trilogy overall. Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), recorded back in London and New York, ups the ante on the world music flavor and the artiness of the “art rock,” and coats it with a commercial sheen that foreshadows the next album. 

I extended my initial listening one album past Scary Monsters to 1983’s Let’s Dance, where Bowie’s shifting personas finally coalesce into their final form — the confident, hit-making, MTV-friendly pop star in the natty suit and loosened tie. Produced by Nile Rodgers of Chic, Let’s Dance was made to sound great on the radio, and spin off multiple singles. There were the inevitable cries of “sell out” from the type of unpleasant person who likes to cry “sell out,” but this may have been Bowie’s master stroke. And there was nowhere to go but down. 


At this point, I backtracked to the start of Bowie’s career. His actual debut album, 1967’s David Bowie was considered such a colossal embarrassment by all parties involved that he named his 1969 follow-up…David Bowie, as if to erase the existence of the previous version. The second incarnation of David Bowie, an acoustic-textured blend of hippie folk sounds and wordy prog-rock lyrics, was re-released in 1972 and re-named after its title track (and far and away its best song): Space Oddity. 1970’s The Man Who Sold The World is more of the same, with an overall darker tone, more electric guitar, and a heavier emphasis on the bass end. (Nirvana did a terrific cover version of the title song.)

Hunky Dory (1971) trades acoustic guitar for jaunty piano as its primary instrument, and showcases an entirely new cabaret-pop style that gave Bowie (“Space Oddity” aside) his first clutch of truly memorable statements — “Changes,” “Oh! You Pretty Things,” “Life On Mars?,” among others.

Then came his “glam rock” trilogy: The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972), Aladdin Sane (1973), and Diamond Dogs (1974), which made Bowie a global superstar. (1973’s Pin-Ups was an all-covers album, and interesting in its own way.) Ziggy is a true concept album, with a loose narrative based around the messianic title character. The two follow-ups abandon a cohesive narrative, and are instead a series of observational sketches seen through the eyes of a Ziggyesque “alien outsider” character. (Ziggy himself “died” onstage each night during Bowie’s ‘73 shows, and was retired at the end of the tour.) Each album rocked a little harder than the one before. The sound of Ziggy was still essentially the bottom-heavy folk-rock of Sold The World, cut through with Mick Ronson’s stinging lead guitar, but by Dogs the sound was full-on hard rock. 

I saved the long decline (and bittersweet comeback) for last. Bowie himself pretty much disavowed all his ‘80s material after Let’s Dance. He threw in the towel on solo work and formed a four-piece, no-frills hard rock band called Tin Machine in 1989, which seemed like a great idea…if only they’d had any decent songs. They disbanded after only three years and two pretty bad albums. His solo work in the ‘90s and early ‘00s was even more experimental than in his prime, fully embracing industrial, drum-and-bass, and electronica, but it was often unfocused and unmemorable. A heart attack in 2004 sent him into retirement…

…or so it was thought. In 2013, he put out the recorded-in-secret The Next Day with no promotion or fanfare whatsoever. Re-purposing the cover art of “Heroes,” Bowie sounds jolted alive, and presents us with a cohesive, coherent art-rock album that could easily stand alongside his classics, and includes “The Stars (Are Out Tonight),” his best song in thirty years. Its 2016 follow-up, Blackstar, carries the burden of being the album written and recorded as Bowie was fading away from cancer. He died two days after its release, and naturally, all of his fans cherish this as his final gift to them.

And here’s where I make the blasphemous confession that will forever bar me from true Bowie fandom: I don’t like Blackstar all that much. 

I enjoyed my deep dive into the Bowie discography, and I think I made a pretty good playlist, but the experience didn’t move the needle very much on how I feel about him. Admiration and respect, always, but it’s not passionate love. We can just be friends.

Anything that needs saying about the Byrds, well…I already said it, at my usual length, here and here.

When Johnny Cash re-emerged in the ‘90s thanks to his work with producer Rick Rubin, everyone was retroactively horrified that his record company of 25 years, Columbia, heartlessly dropped the legend in the mid-1980s. Having listened to his early ‘80s output, however, I can only wonder what took them so long. I still love Cash, but navigating his post-Folsom Prison, pre-Rubin discography was a Sisephyan task of getting through an album full of unfunny novelty songs, ponderous spoken-word narrations, turgid gospel, and quasi-misogynist my-woman-is-my-property “love” songs. Then doing it all over again with the next album. Then you find a nugget like “Far Side Banks of the Jordan” on 1977’s little-remembered The Last Gunfighter Ballad, and it feels worth all the trouble.

The Clash…I don’t listen to them nearly as often as I should. Every time I choose to put them on, I’m always glad I did. I bought MMDG’s old Toyota Corolla off him in 2007. He had covered the rear window and bumper with stickers. Tastefully monochromatic, mind you, not garish, and aligned with geometric precision, but it was a very guy-in-his-20s look, and I was by then in my (very) early 30s. So I scraped them all off — except the Clash, which retained pride of place in the back left of the rear window for as long as I had the car. 

The Last Gang In Town purports to be the Clash’s “definitive biography,” but the last ⅔ of the book is author Marcus Gray needing a bucket to carry the amount of butt-hurt he exhibits because the Clash turned out not to be actual committed socialist revolutionaries after all, but just a great rock band.

Creedence…I do not need all nine minutes of “Susie Q.” Luckily, the radio-edit version is available. I do not need a single second of their eleven-minute version of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine…”

[The next day.]

OK, I caved and put “Grapevine” on the list. They build a pretty hypnotic groove.

Bob Dylan…he released a seventeen-minute song early during this quarantine…there was a snippet of Idle Time chatter about it on the IM app…

BC: …which features the lyrics “rub-a-dub-dub, it’s a murder most foul.”

WH: He’s still got it.

Once you get into the Beatles, it’s a pretty short hop to getting into the Byrds, and from there, an even shorter hop to Dylan. 

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The Spotify Chronicles, Vol. 3.3: Even More on The Beatles’ U.S. Albums, and How the Young Holy Bee Became a Beatles Collector

Dateline: Davis, CA. COVID-19 “shelter-in-place” quarantine, March 18 through…?, 2020

The new year 1966 dawns. A suitable Beatles film project could not be agreed upon, so there was no soundtrack recording or movie shooting to take up three months of their time, giving them their first extended break in years. They vacationed, relaxed, gave interviews, and had an infamous photo session in March, where they posed for Robert Whitaker’s camera clad in butcher’s smocks, draped in pieces of raw meat and clutching dismembered baby dolls. 


Then it was back to Abbey Road in April for the next round of recording, which would last until June, once again cutting sixteen tracks — fourteen for the album and two for a stand-alone single.

Tracks as yet “un-albumized” by Capitol will appear in bold, even if they’ve had a Capitol single release.

Capitol, as usual, was eager to get more product onto U.S. shelves in the summertime, when teens with summer jobs did most of their spending. (In both ‘65 and ‘66, they put out an album in June and an album in August.) Still unreleased on a Capitol album were There’s A Place, Misery, From Me To You, Sie Liebt Dich, Can’t Buy Me Love, A Hard Day’s Night, and I Should Have Known Better. In the fast-moving world of 60s pop music, these were now “oldies,” never under serious consideration at this point, even for the most careless Capitol throw-together. Of a more recent vintage, they were sitting on I’m Down, Yesterday, and Act Naturally from the Help! sessions, the We Can Work It Out / Day Tripper single, and the UK Rubber Soul leftovers Drive My Car, Nowhere Man, What Goes On, and If I Needed Someone. For some reason, Capitol decided to totally disregard I’m Down, and put it out of the running forever after. I have no idea why. The fact that it had been put out as a single’s B-side the previous year doesn’t seem like the sort of thing they’d be picky about. It’s a great song, and the Beatles themselves obviously liked it, selecting it to be performed on The Ed Sullivan Show and using it as their big closing number in concert for two straight years. But Capitol nixed it, and decided they had only eight usable songs for the next album. (Dave Dexter, Jr. had finally been reassigned in March 1966, and the Beatles were no longer his concern. Unfortunately, his successor, Bill Miller, was evidently even more of a troglodyte completely out of touch with modern music.)

Which led to the now yearly tradition. Sometime in early May, Capitol contacted the Beatles for additional material. The band shipped over three finished tracks from their current work in progress — I’m Only Sleeping, Doctor Robert, and And Your Bird Can Sing. All were Lennon songs, as he was the only one to have any fully completed recordings at the time of the request. Paul was still tinkering with his material. (Actually, they had also finished Harrison’s Love You To, and a copy of the master was prepared, probably for shipment to Capitol, but it went unused. Its exotic Indian instrumentation would have been out of place among the straightforward pop-rock of Yesterday And Today, and was better-suited to the more experimental Revolver.)


Yesterday And Today (June 15, 1966)

  1. Drive My Car (UK Rubber Soul)
  2. I’m Only Sleeping (UK Revolver)
  3. Nowhere Man (UK Rubber Soul)
  4. Doctor Robert (UK Revolver)
  5. Yesterday (UK Help!)
  6. Act Naturally (UK Help!)
  1. And Your Bird Can Sing (UK Revolver)
  2. If I Needed Someone (UK Rubber Soul)
  3. We Can Work It Out (single — double A-side with “Day Tripper”)
  4. What Goes On (UK Rubber Soul)
  5. Day Tripper (single — double-A side with “We Can Work It Out”)

This is the one everyone remembers as initially having the famous “butcher” cover, from the photo session described earlier. Some have speculated that the cover is the Beatles’ commentary on Capitol “butchering” their albums for the American market, but it was really just avant-garde surrealism on the part of the photographer. (The Beatles had no say in which of their songs went on U.S. albums, let alone what cover photo was used.) Whitaker designed the shot as part of a larger social-commentary photo essay that he planned for the group called A Somnambulistic Adventure. It got no further than the first round of pics (the Beatles got bored with pretentious bullshit like that pretty quickly — at least in those days), and those photos were just added to their press kit with the hundreds of other band pictures. Someone in Capitol’s graphics department grabbed the photo from their files, either due to a dark sense of humor, or (more likely) figuring one picture of the group was as good as any other. It may have just been the most recent set on the pile. And off it went. 


Anyway, about 60,000 “butcher” sleeves made it to distributors and radio stations (not quite to store shelves) before outcry over the “tasteless” cover art from said distributors and radio stations caused Capitol to recall the album at great expense, and issue it with a replacement cover (with bored-looking Beatles posed around a steamer trunk.) Some lucky folks decided to keep the butcher version instead of returning it to Capitol, and mint copies are worth a fortune. (A few thousand copies of the butcher cover made it into stores with the new cover simply pasted over it. It could be recovered through various painstaking methods. Those copies always sustained a little damage in the process, and are worth slightly less. My own vinyl copy has a little tear in the sleeve from me checking to see if the butcher cover was underneath, not realizing as a little kid I was the owner of a factory-fresh, circa-1983 reissue.)

The Paperback Writer / Rain single came out on May 30, 1966 in the U.S., and on June 10 in the UK

The British Revolver came out in the UK on August 5 with the following tracklist: Taxman / Eleanor Rigby / “I’m Only Sleeping” / Love You To / Here, There And Everywhere / Yellow Submarine / She Said She Said / Good Day Sunshine / “And Your Bird Can Sing” / For No One / “Doctor Robert” / I Want To Tell You / Got To Get You Into My Life / Tomorrow Never Knows.

It came out three days later in the U.S. The only alteration Capitol made was the removal of the three Lennon songs that had just come out on Yesterday And Today. The resulting American Revolver is very lopsided, a McCartney-heavy album (he also wrote the Ringo-sung “Yellow Submarine”*), with Lennon represented by just two songs (even George got three), closing each of the album’s vinyl sides with a blast of proto-psychedelic weirdness. 


Revolver (August 8, 1966)

  1. Taxman
  2. Eleanor Rigby
  3. Love You To
  4. Here, There And Everywhere
  5. Yellow Submarine
  6. She Said She Said
  1. Good Day Sunshine
  2. For No One
  3. I Want To Tell You
  4. Got To Get You Into My Life
  5. Tomorrow Never Knows

In a telling indication of the role reversal of the importance of albums and singles by this time, instead of putting a single on an album, Capitol released a single from the album. “Eleanor Rigby / Yellow Submarine” missed the top of the charts (barely), but when, in a spirit of experimentation, Parlophone also released the songs as a single, they got a #1 in Britain.

Unlike 1963 (in Britain), ‘64, and ‘65, there would be no end-of-year album in 1966. The Beatles were hard at work on what would become Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, which would not be ready until the following spring. To fill the void, Parlophone put all the A-sides of British singles to date (minus the first two, which were available on the Please Please Me album, and including the popular “Yesterday”…and for some reason, “Michelle”) on the Beatles’ first greatest hits collection — A Collection of Beatles Oldies, which undoubtedly nestled under many a British Christmas tree. They even threw in “Bad Boy,” establishing the tradition of a greatest hits album including a previously unreleased “bonus track.” The U.S. market went Beatle-less that December. (A stereo acetate of their ‘64 and ‘65 concerts at the Hollywood Bowl was made in late September, seemingly for a live album, but the idea was dropped for the moment. It eventually came out in 1977.)

In early 1967, their original recording contract with EMI expired. In renegotiating a new one, they now had the clout to make absolutely sure that Capitol Records would release their albums with the same packaging and track listing that they had in Britain in no uncertain terms, unless they gave their specific approval. This was their art, dammit, and it was not just commerce for them. EMI agreed to the new deal..

Thus ended Capitol’s slicing and dicing of Beatles albums for the American market. When Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band came out in June, it was the first time a Beatles album made it across the Atlantic unaltered. (If Capitol were still cutting up albums, and I were in charge of Pepper, I would dump the dated, weepy melodrama “She’s Leaving Home” with its Mike Leander [not George Martin!]-arranged strings, and the dippy “Lovely Rita” and replace them with “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever,” both of which were originally intended for the album. Just my two cents.)

Now if they put out a stand-alone single, it was a stand-alone single in the U.S. as well. And there were three stand-alone singles in 1967:

Penny Lane / Strawberry Fields Forever (February)

All You Need Is Love / Baby, You’re A Rich Man (July)

Hello, Goodbye / I Am The Walrus (November)

After Pepper, their next project was Magical Mystery Tour, a surreal, largely improvised, self-made psychedelic hot mess of a TV movie which ran on the BBC on December 26. It bombed, and was not widely seen in the U.S. until the home video era, but the music from it, as usual, would be in wide demand — Magical Mystery Tour, The Fool On The Hill, Flying, Blue Jay Way, Your Mother Should Know, and I Am The Walrus. 

The six songs from the TV movie were not enough to fill an album, so Parlophone put them out in the UK in a very awkward format — a double-EP. It sold well enough, but it was the sort of thing that wouldn’t work at all in the U.S.

This time, at the end of 1967, when Capitol issued a U.S.-only album, it was based on a relatively decent idea: A full-length album, with all the TV movie songs on one side, and all the 1967 singles rounded up on the other. Since this went out under the terms of their new contract, the Beatles did grudgingly agree to the expanded packaging, and accepted the realities of the American market, where the movie was not aired and a double-EP would be commercially risky. (They were particularly miffed about the inclusion of the pre-Sgt. Pepper “Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever” single.)


Magical Mystery Tour (November 27, 1967)

  1. Magical Mystery Tour (Magical Mystery Tour double-EP)
  2. The Fool On The Hill (Magical Mystery Tour double-EP)
  3. Flying (Magical Mystery Tour double-EP)
  4. Blue Jay Way (Magical Mystery Tour double-EP)
  5. Your Mother Should Know (Magical Mystery Tour double-EP)
  6. I Am The Walrus (Magical Mystery Tour double-EP and “Hello, Goodbye” B-side)
  1. Hello, Goodbye (single)
  2. Strawberry Fields Forever (single — double A-side with “Penny Lane”)
  3. Penny Lane (single — double A-side with “Strawberry Fields Forever”)
  4. Baby, You’re A Rich Man (B-side to “All You Need Is Love”)
  5. All You Need Is Love (single)

The album was so successful that EMI eventually issued it in Britain in 1976, and it’s been part of the “official” album canon ever since, the old double-EP long forgotten. The Beatles themselves eventually warmed up to it. John Lennon even pronounced it his favorite Beatles album “because it’s so weird.” (He went back and forth between this and the White Album.)

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The Spotify Chronicles, Vol. 3.2: More On The Beatles’ U.S. Capitol Albums

Dateline: Davis, CA. COVID-19 “shelter-in-place” quarantine, March 18 through…?, 2020

Continuing our in-depth examination of how Capitol Records handled the Beatles’ output in the U.S.A…

Tracks as yet “un-albumized” by Capitol will appear in bold, even if they’ve had a Capitol single release.

The Beatles had gone into the studio from February 25 to March 1, 1964 to finish their next single and the songs that would be featured in their film A Hard Day’s Night. They got under way by completing work on Can’t Buy Me Love, which they had started in EMI’s Paris studios during their residency at the Olympia Theatre the month before. It was definitely planned for inclusion in the film, but released as a single well before the film’s release. That way, the film could boast an already-proven hit song on its soundtrack. The single’s B-side “You Can’t Do That” was recorded as well. Its possible inclusion in the film was not assured, and it was snapped up by Second Album’s compilers. (In fact, a “You Can’t Do That” segment was filmed for the final concert sequence, but cut.) The songs intended for performance sequences in the movie were also recorded at these sessions — And I Love Her, I Should Have Known Better, Tell Me Why, If I Fell, I’m Happy Just To Dance With You, along with possible stand-alone British single “Long Tall Sally” and “I Call Your Name” which were quickly shipped stateside to be on Second Album.

The Beatles filmed A Hard Day’s Night through March and April under the working title Beatlemania. The film’s much-improved final title was thought of (based on a line in a Lennon poem, in turn based on expression of Ringo’s), and UA producer Walter Shenson asked the band to come up with a song to match. A Hard Day’s Night was rush-recorded towards the end of film shooting on April 16.


United Artists had no claim over the soundtrack’s release in the UK. As far as Parlophone was concerned, A Hard Day’s Night was first and foremost the Beatles’ third album, and a soundtrack by happenstance. But what they’d recorded so far would only fill one side of an LP. Parlophone needed side two…and Richard Lester indicated he needed one more song to finish off the film.

So from June 1-4, 1964 (after a well-earned break for most of May), the Beatles went back into the studio and recorded I’ll Cry Instead (the track they planned to give Lester), Any Time At All, Things We Said Today, When I Get Home, I’ll Be Back, and two covers: Ringo singing Carl Perkins’ Matchbox, and John tearing through Larry Williams’ Slow Down. (The raucous, wild-man Williams was considered New Orleans’ answer to Little Richard, and was a long-standing Beatles favorite.)

I’ll Cry Instead was dispatched to Lester, busy in the editing room, and UA made careful note of its inclusion. When Parlophone was prepping the British version of the album, they discovered if they included the B-side “You Can’t Do That” and dropped the two cover songs, making the overall album one track shorter (at 13 songs), they could call it an all-original album — every track by Lennon-McCartney!

As they held off releasing the album until the film was ready, Parlophone decided to fill BeatlesLongTallSallyEPthe demand for new Beatles product by expanding the potential “Long Tall Sally” single into an EP — an “extended play” four-song 45-rpm, a format that was quite popular in Britain but never caught on in the States.

The Beatles’ EP Long Tall Sally, featuring “Long Tall Sally” (from the U.S. Second Album) “I Call Your Name” (likewise), and the two covers cut from the album, Matchbox and Slow Down, was released in Britain on June 19. 

UA wasn’t scheduled to release the film A Hard Day’s Night in the U.S. until August 11, but they were getting antsy to cash in on the soundtrack, so they put it out super early, on June 26. They had distribution rights only to the eight songs actually in the film, so they created a full-length album by adding four segments from George Martin’s score, which were orchestral re-workings of other Beatles songs.

  1. A Hard Day’s Night
  2. Tell Me Why


    NOT Capitol! United Artists

  3. I’ll Cry Instead 
  4. “I Should Have Known Better” (orch.)
  5. I’m Happy Just To Dance With You
  6. “And I Love Her” (orch.)
  1. I Should Have Known Better
  2. If I Fell
  3. And I Love Her 
  4. “Ringo’s Theme (This Boy)” (orch.)
  5. Can’t Buy Me Love
  6. “A Hard Day’s Night” (orch.)

UA put the soundtrack out so early, I’ll Cry Instead remained on the album even though Lester dropped the song from the film at the last minute. (He didn’t think it was high-energy enough to match the action sequences it was intended for — either the frolicking-in-the-field segment, or the police chase segment — so he just used Can’t Buy Me Love twice. No one seemed to mind.)

So…EMI controlled these songs, and gave UA certain rights to them in the U.S., but what did these rights entail? It certainly seems the rights were not exclusive, because Capitol sure as hell went ahead and released them in various formats that summer. (And EMI eventually bought out the UA catalog in 1979, so all subsequent U.S. reissues of A Hard Day’s Night would be under the Capitol banner.)

The best explanation I’ve found is from the Beatles Music History website (great info, but the usual classic-rock website eyesore): Capitol could use the eight tracks in question — as long as they did not explicitly refer to or advertise whatever they put them on as a “motion picture soundtrack.” With that caveat, Capitol now had some choices to make as far as their third Beatles album was concerned. 

The British version of A Hard Day’s Night came out as the Beatles third Parlophone R-649306-1391254571-9166.jpegalbum on July 10, 1964, with the following track list: A Hard Day’s Night / I Should Have Known Better / If I Fell / I’m Happy Just To Dance With You / And I Love Her / Tell Me Why / Can’t Buy Me Love / Any Time At All / I’ll Cry Instead / Things We Said Today / When I Get Home / “You Can’t Do That” / I’ll Be Back.

Several writers have remarked that the Beatles’ musical growth was so rapid that the difference between Parlophone’s A Hard Day’s Night side one (recorded mostly in February) was quite noticeable from side two (recorded mostly in June).

A single can’t be a “soundtrack,” right? Capitol figured as much, and put out A Hard Day’s Night / I Should Have Known Better as a single on July 13. (Parlophone put out the title song as a single in the UK too — the “no singles on albums” rule in Britain didn’t apply when the singles were tied to the marketing of their films.)

Capitol desperately needed a third Beatles album out for the summer market. The six songs from the first three British singles, and the ten songs recorded for the first British album waaay back in early ‘63 were still part of Capitol’s legal wrangle with Vee-Jay Records (see previous entry.) Capitol had enough muscle to use them if they wanted to (and occasionally did), but they still regarded this stuff as not really worth the trouble.

That leaves the two German-language songs Sie Liebt Dich and Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand recorded in January ‘64 for the German market (an experiment not to be repeated), Matchbox and Slow Down from the British Long Tall Sally EP, and, technically, everything on the newly-released British album A Hard Day’s Night. 

It was immediately decided that A Hard Day’s Night would not be included. Capitol had already capitalized on it as a single, and it skirted too close to UA’s “soundtrack” turf. Its Capitol B-side I Should Have Known Better was tossed, too, for no reason I can see. Maybe it was too closely associated with the movie’s title track due it’s being on the single’s B-side. Nor was Can’t Buy Me Love or I’ll Be Back considered. I have no idea why. Even with those omissions, that still left just enough gas in the tank. 


Something New (July 20, 1964)

  1. I’ll Cry Instead (UK A Hard Day’s Night)
  2. Things We Said Today (UK A Hard Day’s Night)
  3. Any Time At All (UK A Hard Day’s Night)
  4. When I Get Home (UK A Hard Day’s Night)
  5. Slow Down (Long Tall Sally EP)
  6. Matchbox (Long Tall Sally EP)
  1. Tell Me Why (UK A Hard Day’s Night)
  2. And I Love Her (UK A Hard Day’s Night)
  3. I’m Happy Just To Dance With You (UK A Hard Day’s Night)
  4. If I Fell (UK A Hard Day’s Night)
  5. Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand (German-language single on EMI’s Odeon Records, 2/4/64)

The cover is another shot from the Ed Sullivan appearance. The title seems a touch ironic as almost all of side two had been available to U.S. record buyers on the UA soundtrack for almost a month. The soundtrack kept Something New out of the #1 album spot, showing that the fans drew no distinction between UA and Capitol product.

And I can kind of follow Capitol’s logic in terms of song choice through this whole process…until the end of side two here. Why the hell did they include “Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand” when they still had other stuff to choose from? I can only guess as to why better options weren’t chosen instead. I’ll Be Back is a brilliant song, and would have made an infinitely better choice. I suppose it may have been a little too downbeat for an album that already included melancholy songs like “If I Fell” and “Things We Said Today.” Capitol was still trying to sell the Beatles based on excitement (!!) after all. Probably someone at Capitol thought the German song would be a fun novelty for the kids. (They used to put shit like that on early Beach Boys albums all the time). Actually, anything from the ‘63 sessions would have been a better call than that Teutonic atrocity. Continue reading

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